Western University, More Schools Should Cancel Cool Week To End Rape Culture
Fear and frustration looms over London, Ont., Where many are discussing four formal allegations of sexual violence reported to Western University and sharing unconfirmed rumors of broader sexual assaults. Members of the Western community say they don’t feel safe, especially young women and other vulnerable groups.
In response to the situation, the students held a walkout rally on September 17. stand by the survivors and demand change.
Alan Shepard, the president of the university, said Western had let down his students and their families, saying: “What happened last week is really unacceptable… We clearly have a cultural problem that we need to resolve. . ”
Among the new measures the university will adopt will include the launch of a task force to combat sexual and gender-based violence, offering mandatory training on sexual violence, consent and personal safety for all students in residence and the hiring of 100 new “safety ambassadors”.
The response to this stressful situation has been complicated by COVID-19 restrictions and protocols. However, these assault allegations cannot be explained in light of the pandemic and are not unique to any one institution.
Changing the culture of rape
Sexual assault occurs as regularly as the changing seasons at universities and colleges across the country. Frosh, or Orientation Week, in early September is when sexual and gender-based violence is particularly rampant. Despite decades of research showing links between these activities and incidents of sexual and gender-based violence, they still occur every year.
It’s a chilling reflection of how our society normalizes this type of violence, which is now part of the unofficial campus curriculum.
Highly sexualized depictions of party life on campus that validate rape culture have been immortalized in popular culture for decades, including the iconic Animal house (1978). Scene depicts an intoxicated young man glancing at an incapacitated, intoxicated young woman – while a comedic devil on his shoulder uses graphic terminology to urge him to have sex sex with her and adds, “You know she wants it.”
Although dated, this film shaped popular ideas that associate sexual conquest and predatory behavior with the rites of passage of young men on college campuses.
Student-led activism and ongoing feminist challenges to this aspect of campus culture have led to changes in the content of fresh activities, many of which include presentations on sexual consent and mental health. However, reports of sexual assault, rape and gender-based violence continue to occur during the cold week.
Toxic campus culture
Two years ago, as a medical anthropologist specializing in human sexuality, I conducted a qualitative study on Western University’s sexual culture and the institution’s response to incidents of sexual violence. I interviewed 23 students and seven administrative staff. Participants described the project as “timely” given that two assaults allegedly took place during the first week of class that year.
A young woman remarked:
“I heard it happens to freshmen, I think, so it was just crazy. You literally just got to school, your parents let you go and the fact that you are being sexually harassed is really sad.
Participants also reported that despite the pervasive violence on campus, little seems to have changed to prevent it. The university’s policy on gender-based and sexual violence has been reformulated several times in recent years, most recently in 2020. The policy is broad, inclusive and seeks to address cultural issues as well as everyday social experiences to curb violence within our Campus. And yet the incidents continue.
Indeed, data from a survey carried out a year before my study by the Council of Ontario Universities indicated that 71% of students at Western University said they had been victims of sexual harassment. Among those who reported being assaulted at the 20 universities included in the survey, 18% of the events occurred in the fall semester just before classes started. Students who indicated having had one or more experiences of sexual assault were also asked to describe the abuser (s). For this question, the category most often selected by survey respondents was “another student” (49.5%).
These grim numbers resonate with what attendees said about Western Orientation Week, known as OWeek.
“I don’t think they see… this happening”
Intended to orient new students to campus life, Orientation Week typically turns into a series of substance-fueled parties that include sexual violence.
As one student participating in my research put it:
“Literally all the guys in my residence were like ‘let’s see how many bitches we can fuck in the first week’, like in Oweek, which is disturbing.”
Equally disturbing are the predatory behaviors of men dragging young women during Orientation Week events and yelling at them from their vehicles, which has happened in recent years. Several students discussed it, including this young man:
“In the last Oweek I was a soph (orientation leader) and there were guys in cars that would come to the first year events, stop next to them, run their engines and asked, “Who wants to take a ride? “
The novelty of the first week of college for students, unfamiliar with campus life and the guidance officers assigned to them, was cited by many participants as a trigger to make the week a must. dangerous orientation, including this woman:
“I don’t think they realize, the people who run Oweek, the staff, the sophs. I don’t think they see any of this happening and the sophs just met their froshs… I think people are getting comfortable with their sophs, but i don’t know if in this time frame anyone is going to feel comfortable enough to reach out and say, “This is what happened. “
Change of focus
Orientation week assaults persist because they are normalized as part of university culture and because sexual and gender-based violence continues to occur in society at large.
They also persist because many institutions are delaying in making the structural changes necessary to address the toxic issues that make campuses unsafe. No school wants to be associated with rape or violence. But until post-secondary institutions recognize and respond to the undisputed fact that assaults occur regularly on their campuses, students will continue to suffer, as will institutions’ reputations.
How could universities and colleges improve safety on campuses?
Cancel orientation weeks or radically restructure their management. This includes the hiring of well-trained support staff to assist the campus representatives in charge and the mandatory sexuality and gender training for first year students as well as faculty and staff.
Introduce year-round campus-wide alcohol bans, which plays a role in sexual assault on campus.
Create a full-time sexual and gender-based violence advisor who works in partnership with senior management, other allied working groups, campus police and students in general.
Improve the relationship between campus police, campus health services, and related services in the broader community to reduce disclosure concerns and promote survivor-centered healing initiatives.
Include statements on the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence in every course on campus, like the widespread adoption of equity, diversity and inclusion policies in the curricula of Canadian post-secondary institutions .
All messages on sexual and gender-based violence should be inclusive, intersectional and based on survivor-centered and trauma-informed principles.
Greater courage is also required, as one of my study participants suggested: “Doesn’t learning start with safety? … I think it’s fundamentally about institutional courage.